Across California, people of faith are lifting their voices to support AB 685 (Eng), the Human Right to Water Act, which is under consideration this week by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, and her colleagues in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Water is the foundation of life. From birth to death, each and every day, our lives depend on clean water. Many different faiths recognize this gift of water through sacred rites and rituals.
Unfortunately, California’s waters are increasingly stressed from climate change, overuse and contamination. While many of us take our water for granted, it is heartbreaking to see how many families, communities and schools across California can no longer drink their toxic tap water. These families have had no choice but to buy expensive bottled water for everyday use – this on top of paying for local water supply. A United Nations report estimated that in some cases, California families are burdened with paying up to 20 percent of their monthly income for water and sanitation. Schools are forced to spend money they could spend in the classroom on bottled water for students.
For years, impoverished communities in California have struggled to bring these problems to light. Recent research by UC Davis on the impact of nitrates from fertilizer, pesticides and diaries confirms what had been feared – hundreds of thousands of people in California are drinking water that is unsafe, risking blue baby syndrome, maternal reproductive complications and other diseases.
Even the United Nations is concerned. Last year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water came on mission to the United States, including a trip to investigate California’s lack of access to safe drinking water for disadvantaged communities. Last week, the Special Rapporteur urged California’s legislators to pass AB 685, the Human Right to Water Act, as a foundational step to address our water policy challenges.
The U.N.’s voice joins a growing and diverse chorus of supporters, including the California Catholic Conference, whose recent letter of support advocates for the necessity “to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.”
The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of California is pleased to see the growing moral witness with regard to the human right to water. When impoverished communities lack access to safe water, at the same time as our state invests billions in water infrastructure, it is both a water crisis and a moral crisis. This crisis can and must be addressed. As members of the Safe Water Alliance, a collaboration of environmental, faith, health, community, human rights and environmental justice organizations, we believe that our current water policies, which have left behind so many, have proved to be inadequate to the task.
AB 685 will put the human right to water in the California Water Code. As a complement to environmental law, AB 685 will set a priority and empower state agencies, as our experts, to work toward solutions that are just for all our families. This bill is a modest step, providing a policy framework to guide state authorities as they do their work of adopting policies, regulations and funding criteria. It moves California toward the day when we will all have access to safe, affordable water for drinking, cooking and sanitation.
By Arvid Straube, Susan Weaver & Lindi Ramsden
12:01 a.m., Aug. 16, 2012
Updated 3:41 p.m. , Aug. 15, 2012